Short-haired bumblebee nests in Dungeness after decades of extinction in UK
A bumblebee species driven to extinction in the UK has nested for the first time in decades... in a Kent nature reserve.
The fight to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee was a massive project, spanning countries and taking years to bring about.
It comes after the short-haired bumblebee disappeared from our shores in the 1980s.
The short-haired bumblebee. Picture: Dave Goulson
But a mission was recently launched to reintroduce it at the RSPB Dungeness reserve.
Now, after two releases of queen bees at the site, experts have recorded offspring worker bees for the first time.
Dr Nikki Gammans, leading the project, said: “This is a milestone for the project and a real victory for conservation.
"We now have proof that this bumblebee has nested and hatched young and we hope it is on the way to becoming a self-supporting wild species in the UK once again."
He said the project involved creating the right habitat for them, collecting queens in the Swedish countryside, scanning them for diseases and then eventually releasing them at Dungeness.
He added: "Seeing worker bees for the first time is a fantastic reward for all that hard work, but we still have a way to go to ensure this population is safe and viable."
The bumble bee is a common sight in Kent, but the short-haired variety disappeared two decades ago
The groundwork for the project, backed by Natural England, RSPB, Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus (an expert on bees), started four years ago when local farmers began sowing wildflowers to create the ideal habitat for the bees.
Then last year Dr Gammans and a team of volunteers made their first trip to Sweden to collect queens for a pilot introduction.
Then in June this year more Swedish queens were released on the site. Further releases are planned as the project continues to build up the population.
“This is a milestone for the project and a real victory for conservation" - Dr Nikki Gammans
As well as the short-haired bumblebee, the conservation work at Dungeness has also seen increased sightings of other rare bumblebee species this summer, including the ruderal bumblebee, the red shanked carder bee, the moss carder bee and the brown banded carder bee.
Short-haired bumblebees were once widespread across the south of England and their range stretched from Cornwall to Yorkshire.
But they began to decline in the second half of the 20th Century as the wildflower-rich grassland habitats it relies on began to disappear and it was eventually declared extinct in the UK in 2000.
Bees in the UK continue to suffer due to a loss of habitat - Britain has lost 98% of flowering meadows in the last 60 years.
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